Taken on face value, reports that a notorious UDA mural in south Belfast was to be removed, may have been welcomed. However, when the story is examined further we find yet another example of the legitimisation of sectarianism and loyalism. It turns out that the “Grim Reaper” mural in the Village area of Donegal Rd is to be replaced by a portrait King William of Orange (hardly a step forward). Moreover, we find that this only came about as a result of negotiations with the UDA!
The most significant aspect of this story is that the negotiations with the UDA were being conducted out by two statutory bodies - Greater Village Regeneration Trust (GVRT) and the Arts Council. Paula Bradshaw of the GVRT was quite open about the nature of these talks. She said that the UDA had only agreed to the replacement of the mural when the Arts Council offered an inducement of £18,000. Of course the UDA’s agreement was not unconditional. According the Paula Bradshaw it came "with the proviso that they decided what would be the replacement”. Despite this the GVRT and the Arts Council “went along with their wishes”.
The Council's Chief Executive, Roisín McDonough, claimed that the replacement of the mural was a “huge first step in a very positive transformation process.” She further claimed that its replacement by King William was “not an act of triumphalism" as “King William is not offensive to people in this area.” Rather it was a “part of their legitimate Orange cultural heritage.” The unstated yet obvious corollary is that people who don’t belong to this “heritage” have no place in that area.
This episode exemplifies the thoroughly reactionary nature the peace process. We have official state sanction being given sectarian intimidation and the organisations that are responsible for it. Money is thrown at loyalists to erect murals that have no other purpose than to mark out territory and warn off nationalists from moving there or even passing through. Indeed, it’s not just nationalists. In recent years the Village area has seen numerous attacks on racial minorities and migrants. To define a whole area as part of an “Orange cultural heritage”, as Roisín McDonough does, can only legitimise sectarianism and racism. In this she is articulating the assumptions that underpin the peace process as a whole.